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The Other 75%

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Ever since I wrote my first 75% theory article (and then later wrote THIS ONE which is the one I hope people will read if they only read one article about 75%), I have regretted making it so easy for people to misrepresent what 75% deck-building is all about. I, perhaps naively, assume that if someone didn't know what 75% Commander deck-building, they would ask someone or read the article. I'm serious, that's how stupid I was. I read every thread on the Commander subreddits that mentions 75% and everyone seems to have their own idea about what it is. In a way, I guess that's fine. Ray Bradbury tried to tell people that Fahrenheit 451 was a book about people burning books because they'd rather watch TV and every teacher in the world said "It's a book about censorship and that's how we'll teach it" and I didn't know they could... just do that. Ray Bradbury wrote 46,118 words about the world of Fahrenheit 451 and I estimate that I've written over 600,000 words about 75% building - you'd think the picture would be 13 times clearer for 75% building but, if anything, it's less clear because the name is kind of ambiguous.

If I had the thing to name all over again, I wouldn't have a number in it, but since we're stuck with our present realities, I'm sort of stuck. That said, we live in a reality where an ambiguous title can be a good thing sometimes - if everyone else can make 75% mean whatever they want it to, I should be free to do the same, at least for a week. The most common misconception about what 75% means is people thinking the deck is designed to win 75% of the time. I think that conception is especially popular among people who still see themselves as competitive players. A competitive deck should try to win 100% of the time, otherwise why take it to an event? Thinking winning a whopping 75% of your games is somehow a compromise or an attempt to take things casually sounds frankly batshit to anyone who has played Commander for even a year or two but it's a reasonable thing for a competitive player to think. The thing is, they're kind of close but, also, in a way, as far off as you can be - 75% decks aim to LOSE 75% of the time, and I didn't name the theory 25% deck-building because that's a coincidence.

This hilarious misconception where the title throws people off just enough that they accidentally come to the exact opposite conclusion of what I meant them to come to works as a comedy bit but it's a tenuous basis for a design ethos. I couldn't have planned for it to work out worse, but since I can only impact what I can influence, I'm going to talk today about something that misconception makes me think about. You see, properly executed, a 75% deck will win 25% of its games in a 4-player pod, but that number came from me not wanting to over- under-achieve. If you do about as well as you would in any pod where the decks were balanced, your deck is balanced. A desire to create a very basic metric to use play results to see whether or not our deck was balanced and, more importantly, able to balance itself in a multitude of settings resulted in me thinking about how I wanted to win 25% of the time but it took 8 years for me to realize I should only be playing 25% of the time. In a 4-player Commander pod, it won't be your turn 75% of the time. That means each player has to spend the majority of the game watching other people do stuff and wanting it to be their turn.

Game time as a concept is a zero-sum game - you cannot make your 25 into a 26 without turning someone else's 25 into a 24. That's all fine, per se, and everyone grasps that on a fundamental level, but I don't know that I ever sat down and thought about how much I'd like my 25 to be a 40 with long landfall turns, complicated half loops, interactions during their turns and stealing their creatures making them have to recommit to expanding their board. We all want our 25 to be a 75 sometimes but since it's impossible to do that without making 3 people watch you play a very long game of Solitaire, I wanted to look at incorporating this concept of splitting 100% of the game time evenly and some of the other things we've identified we don't like players to do. When you examine other concepts like MLD, Extra Turns, Stax and other concepts that make players salty, the concept of stealing part of someone else's 25% starts to look like it can explain almost all of those pet peeves.

We spend a lot of time and energy before the games, now, talking about our deck's perceived power level and how we all think every deck is a 7 and talking about Rule 0, but once that's over, it seems like we forget why we had those pregame chats. There is a lot you can do outside of how you build your deck to make the game smooth, pleasant and entertaining for everyone involved.

One reason people tend to be upset at cards like Expropriate and Time Stretch is that they quantify exactly how much they're missing out on. If you take seven or eight long turns where you spend a lot of time in the tank, tap and re-tap your lands, pick up your deck and search for a card like 12 times, draw a ton of extra cards, gain a bunch of life and pass the turn after 5 minutes, you're making the table watch you for 35 minutes out of a 1-hour game. If people could see at the end of the game just how much extra time you played more than they did, they'd be surprised. Yet if someone plays a Time Stretch and takes three turns that total 5 minutes, everyone is upset because they think they know how long a turn is and you're taking three of them. There are two lessons here. The first is that people should pay more attention to who's actually taking up the most of their 25%. The second lesson, though, is less preachy - it's that you can do a few things to take up less of the other players' 75% of the game time so that no one feels like they're missing out. Most of it is common courtesy - fetch on their turn, plan your turn ahead so you can execute quickly, pay attention to the board so you don't need to ask questions later, put your phone down and leave it down. Playing slowly or inefficiently can add up over a game.

This begs the question - why should we care that much about how the other players feel? Basically, I feel like making plays that can make the game less engaging for the other players will keep them from tuning out and browsing twitter when it's not their turn. No one says that the Tatyova player taking a nine-minute turn and not winning is a 4 out of 4 on the EDHREC salt scale because it's harder to be mad at a concept than at a card. Stealing from other players' personal 25% is less obvious and more pernicious than making someone salty by playing a card they don't like, which is why it pays to think about how your own behavior could be sapping the enthusiasm from the other players. We don't play this format for prizes, enjoying a game with your friends is the prize (I was so proud of this turn of phrase I'm leaving it in despite it being the most saccharine thing I've ever written) and making someone else not enjoy the game is like you're beating them twice.

If someone plays 20% of a game instead of 25%, they probably won't notice. It's when you get down to the single digits that it starts to get miserable. Missed land drops? Keep drawing spells you can play for some reason? All your lands got blown up so you "land, go" for 4 turns? Did Jason Alt use a Mindslaver on you and then bring it back over and over with Goblin Welder (if he did, you probably deserved it)? If you have a short, unproductive turn, it makes the game not fun. I'm not telling you I know how to be the most hospitable host on my Wednesday night streams or that I am charting new territory in the rule 0 discourse or even that I know exactly how to solve this problem. All I am saying is that if you wouldn't Orim's Chant one player at the table over and over, why would you engage in other behavior that would rob just as much of their time as a play like that? If you approach each game with the idea that you should respect the other players' time, you won't just build better, you'll be more fun to play with, too. That's all for today - until next time!

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